Alex Neil's challenge to Preston North End squad after injuries to Sean Maguire and Daniel Johnson

Alex Neil has challenged his Preston squad to cover two more key absences as they go about the task of keeping their good form going.

Friday, 23rd November 2018, 5:00 am

Sean Maguire and Daniel Johnson are both out of the derby with Blackburn Rovers tomorrow, their absences to stretch well beyond that.

Another hamstring injury will keep Maguire out until the New Year, while Johnson is seeing a specialist today to learn the extent of a damaged thigh muscle.

The pair played key roles in the victory against Bristol City before the international break, in the No.9 and No.10 roles respectively.

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Lukas Nmecha celebrates his goal for England's Under 20s on Monday night

So Neil has no choice but to make changes for the visit of Rovers to Deepdale, just as his selection was beginning to settle down.

Lukas Nmecha is likely to be the beneficiary of Maguire’s absence, the Manchester City loanee having scored for the England Under-20s in their win over Germany on Monday.

Johnson’s midfield role looks set to go to Alan Browne who started on the bench at Bristol City.

Browne returned home early from international duty with a shoulder injury but it shouldn’t be an issue.

PNE boss Neil said: “We have got other options.

“Lukas has been in the side before and done well, he did particularly well against Brentford and Wigan.

“Louis Moult came on and made big impacts with his goals at Aston Villa and Hull.

“There are lads who have to see this as a good opportunity for them.”

Maguire’s hamstring strain, suffered with Republic of Ireland, is a fresh one rather than a reoccurrence.

A second lengthy absence this season, on top of being out for four months last term, is of huge frustration to the striker and North End.

While Neil doesn’t attach any blame to how Republic of Ireland handled him, clearly not having the international break to rest is an issue.

Neil said: “We feel that we have managed him relatively well, we steadily built him up and built up his minutes.

“Normally that first week of the break would be a down week for him, just to recover and get himself ready.

“But he has to go away on international duty and do all that work again.”

Neil is looking forward to Rovers’ visit tomorrow, one which should draw the biggest crowd of the season.

“Everyone loves a derby and the best one since I’ve been here was away at Bolton last season,” said Neil.

“It was a really enjoyable game, it was Gentry Day and we put a really good display in.

“Derby matches are about bragging rights and putting one over on your rivals.

“More importantly for us it is a crucial three points that are up for grabs.”